PARIS — The lawn of Fox Apartments, owned and operated by Avesta Housing, was full of new life Friday, Sept. 20, as freshly hatched snapping turtles emerged from their nests and began a quest to the Little Androscoggin River. This wasn’t the first time turtles have used the former school property as a nursery.

A newly hatched snapping turtle makes its way to the Little Androscoggin River. Dee Menear/Advertiser Democrat

Carol Fanjoy, the building’s first apartment resident, spent ten years working as a custodian at the school.  When Fanjoy first moved in last April, she spoke of a mama turtle that had come up from the Little Androscoggin River one year to make a nest and lay eggs on what had been the playground.

This past June, residents noticed a snapping turtle digging holes and laying eggs on the lawn of the apartment complex. Management asked the maintenance worker, Jesse LaRue, to mark the areas so they wouldn’t be disturbed. Seven potential nests were identified and fenced in, LaRue said.
Then the waiting for babies began.

Derek Yorks, a wildlife biologist with Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said egg-laying can begin in late May and extend into the first week of July.

“The great majority of laying occurs during June and eggs hatch about 85 days later,” he added. “Typically, nests contain between 25 and 45 eggs. Up to 109 eggs have been documented in a nest outside of Maine.”

The Fox Apartments snapper hatchlings arrived a little later than expected, 96 days after the eggs were laid.

“We thought we missed the hatching,” LaRue said. “We thought they had hatched at night and we had missed them.”

A snapping turtle hatchling emerges from its nest on the lawn of Fox Apartments in Paris. Dee Menear/Advertiser Democrat

As the temperatures warmed up that day, one of the residents spotted a hatchling. Then another … and another. In the span of about an hour, nine baby turtles were found making a slow and arduous journey to the river.

Yorks said there is no clear answer as to what makes snapping turtles gravitate toward the water.

“A lot of questions remain about how turtles orient. It may be the smell of the water and associated mud and vegetation,” he said. “Turtles are known to navigate by memory so if they have been there before, they can recall the way back.”

Yorks said it is best to leave hatchlings, and all turtles alone unless they are in immediate danger, such as on a roadway.

“They know where they are going,” he said. “Even if a snapping turtle isn’t headed toward the water, they know where they are going.  Turtles, hatchlings or otherwise, should not be relocated to another site. They may try to return to where they were found and face many hazards along the way.”

If a turtle is in immediate danger, Yorks said it could be moved out of the situation but should be left in the direction it was headed.

Snapping turtles have been documented to live over 40 years in the wild but may live considerably longer, Yorks added.

 


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